HOSPITALITY businesses that wish to offer an al fresco dining option should soon be able to do so without asking for planning permission in an expected relaxation of Scottish rules.

New measures are anticipated to come into force at the end of next month which will make it easier for cafes, bars and restaurants to place tables and chairs on pavements outside their premises. 

Outdoor dining became popular during the Covid pandemic as Scots tried to protect themselves and their community from the spread of the virus.

Strong support was expressed in a public consultation for the extension of permitted development rights to enable more businesses to offer outdoor eating and drinking. Regulations to implement the measures were laid in the Scottish Parliament on Friday for approval by MSPs.

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Councils will, however, retain powers to prevent and deal with obstructions that make it difficult for people to access pavements safely and effectively, for example people in wheelchairs or with visual impairments, or families with children in pushchairs.

The 12-week consultation also backed the relaxation of planning rules for the conversion of certain premises into cafes, restaurants, or small-scale offices, as well as the installation of larger electric vehicle charging equipment in car parks.

If approved by Parliament, all these measures would be allowed under certain circumstances without the need for a planning application.

Planning Minister Tom Arthur said: “These measures will support Scotland’s town and city centre businesses to thrive.

“More flexible use of outdoor space can help the hospitality industry recover from the pandemic and cost crisis, while making city and town centres more attractive and welcoming.

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"The important safeguards for councils seek to ensure that no one should be prevented from using pavements and visiting town and city centres safely.

"A more streamlined approach to changes of use can help businesses respond more rapidly to shifting circumstances, support reuse of vacant premises and encourage the return of workers and shoppers to our town and city centres.

“Simplifying planning rules for electric vehicle chargers will support the roll-out of infrastructure across Scotland as part of our commitment to tackling climate change and making Scotland a Net Zero nation.

“These measures will help deliver our ambition to create a fairer, greener and wealthier Scotland, by making places more attractive for people to live, work and visit.”